By David Gibson
Gulf Brook Road.
The former Boreas Lodge before it was removed in summer 2016.
Governor Cuomo’s proposed new public-private initiative to revitalize Northway Exit 29 in the Adirondack Park, the former Frontiertown theme park, and to create a new visitor center and “gateway” there to benefit not just the town of North Hudson, but Essex County and the entire Adirondack Park is a good proposal.
After the Governor spent public funds to acquire the nearby Boreas Ponds for the Forest Preserve as a kind of gateway to the High Peaks and Dix Mountain Wilderness, this well-traveled sector of Essex County so close to I-87 deserves a gateway information and interpretive center that helps attract, orient, inform and inspire curious travelers – whether or not those visitors intend an outdoor adventure at Boreas Ponds.
What concerns me is one sentence buried in that same State of the State report (on page 271): “Specifically, DEC will construct infrastructure at Boreas Ponds in the Adirondacks and build trails as part of the “Hut-to-Hut” system that links State lands to community amenities.”
DEC will construct at Boreas Ponds. What does this mean? What could it mean? Where would it apply? No one I’ve asked seems to know the answers yet. It could be a positive directive, tied into the Hut-to-Hut initiative where the goal is for wild land passive, muscle-powered recreation to begin and end at lodgings of all description within Adirondack hamlets. But where could a modest yurt or an elaborate overnight lodging be legally sited at remote, interior Boreas Ponds, and on what main street or hamlet dozens of miles away would such a structure connect to?
Would this be a proposal better intended for the privately owned Elk Lake further to the east and its closer connection to trails leading to Northway Exit 29 in North Hudson?
Or, could this be a gubernatorial directive to the DEC that, whether intentionally or not, interrupts what the Governor’s APA, after reviewing all of the public hearings and evidence, may conclude later this winter: that Boreas Ponds meets all of the necessary conditions and criteria for a Wilderness classification under the State Land Master Plan?
Constructing new infrastructure and an overnight system of “huts” of whatever size and level of luxury would be legally prohibited under a Wilderness classification and subsequent Wilderness management guidelines. If taken to an extreme, and I am not suggesting here that it would be, the “shall construct at Boreas Ponds” directive could translate into a violation of Article XIV’s “shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private” clause pertaining to any part of the NYS Forest Preserve, irrespective of the land’s classification.
The constitutional defeat of the “closed cabins” on the Forest Preserve proposed by Robert Moses in the early 1930’s, or the right decision not to allow commercial overnight uses at Whiteface Mountain Intensive Use Area (part of our Forest Preserve) come to mind. DEC, with great effort, just finished dismantling and removing Boreas Lodge this past summer so that it would never pose an inconsistent use on the Forest Preserve.
Clearly, we don’t yet know what the directive means. But by its inclusion in the Governor’s message it surely means something. I trust that an opportunity will be convened for stakeholder questions and answers about any plans to construct at Boreas Ponds.
In the meantime, one hopes that the directive does not color or prejudice APA’s responsibilities to freely deliberate and decide about the right classification at Boreas Ponds, which, of course, must be ultimately ratified by the Governor.
I offer a slimmed-down, 21-page, pretty accessible, though dated, guidebook on the subject: Unit Planning for Wilderness Management (1987). Its author was once the Director of the NYS DEC Division of Lands and Forests, Norman J. VanValkenburgh.
Throughout his notable DEC career, Norm sought to make the field of Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve history, protection and management more accessible to the general public. His Forest Preserve slideshows, brief histories, longer histories and primers dating from the 1970s and 80s fill many shelves. He wrote Unit Planning for Wilderness Management as much for State employees of the DEC as for the public at large. The fact that Norm went to a private organization to publish it speaks to his appreciation for the crucial historical role of citizen watchdogs in the protection, proper management and public education about our publicly-owned Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.
So, here is a pdf of that guidebook from the Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve office.
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